A little over two years ago Robin Newcomer and her husband, Dave, were living a normal, healthy life, having been married almost 30 years with three grown children.
Dave called himself “the everything man.” He was a deck builder, a boat dock builder, a landscaper and a construction worker. “He built some of the best decks here in town, in my opinion — in most people’s opinion,” Robin said.
One day in March 2015, Dave came home and was complaining that something didn’t feel right in his stomach. She took him to urgent care, where they thought he had a twisted colon, followed by a trip to the emergency room where they thought he had a colon blockage. He was referred to a G.I. doctor, who performed scope tests and a colonoscopy, but couldn’t find anything.
“So they just told him he had gastritis, just a bad stomachache basically. We spent
probably two months and he started losing weight because he wasn’t able to eat very good,” Robin said.
They finally got a referral to visit a G.I. doctor in Little Rock where they learned that Dave had a type of hereditary stage 4 stomach cancer in May 2015.
“This doctor dug a little deeper because what happens with this cancer is, say your stomach basically has three to four different layers, and the way this cancer grows, it’s kind of like if you take a drop of water and put in on a paper towel. You know how it spreads? Well, that’s how this cancer grows; there’s no tumor to see. It spreads in the inner layers so when they go in there and look, they don’t see anything,” Robin said.
The first recommendation with this particular type of cancer is to have the stomach removed if the cancer hadn’t yet spread out of the stomach. They went to a stomach cancer surgeon for testing where it was discovered that the cancer had spread out of the stomach and into the lymphatics, so having his stomach removed was no longer an option.
Dave was given a choice: he could endure chemotherapy and live another six months, or pass up the chemotherapy and only live four more months. He chose the chemo.
“And bless his heart, he tried to give us six months,” Robin said.
Robin eventually had to quit her job of 17 years to take care of Dave. They made visits to the emergency room on a weekly basis, about two to three times a week, she said.
Dave died five months later, on Oct. 22, 2015.
“It’s like the wind gets knocked out of you,” Robin said. “It was all encompassing. It was just moving so fast and he was just so sick. We knew from the get-go it was going to be a battle.”
When asked how her husband’s cancer diagnosis affected their marriage, Robin said, “Other than the fact that it just took us by surprise because he was healthy as a horse, it made us closer. Maybe for some it doesn’t, but it made us closer because you have a lot of talks when you know that’s coming.”
In a matter of six months, Robin went from being happily married to being a widow. Because Dave’s cancer was hereditary, their three kids were also tested. Two out of three of them tested positive for the gene.
“If you have this gene mutation you’ve got an 80 percent chance of fatal stomach cancer,” Robin said. “So it’s a death sentence.”
Robin said that because this type of stomach cancer is so rare, making up less than 3
percent of all stomach cancers, trying to find a doctor who knew anything about it was no small task.
“I ended up on the internet and there’s this site called No Stomach for Cancer, and they were instrumental in getting us where we needed to be and who we needed to be in front of. We ended up in New York City and that’s where they both had their stomachs removed,” she added. “They had their entire stomachs removed from the end of their esophagus to the beginning of their small intestines. That’s what’s recommended. It’s either that or do nothing, and after watching their dad go down so quick both of them were not even hesitating.”
When asked how she got through it, Robin simply said, “by the Grace of God,” adding, “between my faith and my church, it ended up being a family ordeal. You just keep going. Take care of yourself. You have to be the advocate because I had to push to get everything done.”